Friday, May 06, 2011


Just now coming round to Heriberto Yépez's usefully aggressive definition of "hybrid" for a cross-cultural poetics "dictionary." The definition seems wonderfully congruent with Keith Tuma's recent essay "After the Bubble" (Chicago Review 55:3/4):

HYBRID. Postmodernism’s key notion, maybe the notion that sustains most postmodernism’s quackery. Through the illusion of hybridism contradiction is obscured, turned commodity. Not able to recognize and accept the other in its complete otherness, we turn it into hybrid, i.e., half me, similar to Us. (Not Other). Not Either/Or but always proper. Property. Not completely stranger. ‘Mixed’. In denial of otherness we constructed ‘hybrid’. We have naturalized the ‘hybrid’ category so much, that the mere mention of this category as purely cultural, artificial, contextualized (in imperialistic epistemology) seems a ‘menace’, an evil return to ‘Nationalism’ or ‘Pure’. Using the ‘hybrid’ category we have remained Hegelian. We arrive to syntheses. (Isn’t that wonderful, daddy?) We prevent radical dialectics to take place. ‘Hybrid’ has taken control of cultural industries, such as music where fusion has become institutionalized. Such happens also in the arts and writing communities, where being ‘hybrid’ is the key to enter. And become “trend”. In the same way, ‘activism’ is replacing ‘revolution’, ‘hybrid’ replaced ‘contradiction’—and denies the real relationship between One and the Other. Otherness. Hybrid is sameness. Hybrid tends to become Happy Hybrid. That’s why the hybrid category plays so well in ‘postmodern’ discourse. A capitalistic notion to kill rupture. No negation anymore! Let settle down with hybridism, ok? Don’t even talk about resistance. But resistance is what really takes place where hybridism is now used. Resistance doesn’t mean borders or ‘essences’ are not transgressed. To the contrary. It means participants enter into a strong relationship. A magnetic field where attraction and repellence both take place. Resistance is all about magnetism. And the hybrid category is all about denying resistance.

Beyond what I recognize as a misreading of the Hegelian dialectic (like economic determination in the last instance, the end of history never arrives; nor is the moment of aufhebung reducible to the simple notion of a crudely transubstantiating synthesis), Yépez's clear insistence that the illusion of hybridity masks and reifies contradiction arrives as a breath of less polluted air at a moment when productively antagonistic differences are absorbed, willed to the outskirts or wholly disappeared under the mantle of hybridity. In other words, the manic production of cuddly labradoodles will never yield an efficacious poetics that adequately assuages the murderous rage of grossly mistreated pit bulls.

However embarrassing, I was totally unaware of Yépez's work until Donald Wellman addressed it at the March 2010 Olson conference in Worcester, Mass. Thinking through Yépez's study of Olson, El imperio de la neomemoria (Almadia 2007), Wellman's talk was something of a provocation oriented toward addressing Olson's potential complicity in US economic and cultural hegemony. The talk created quite a stir, generating as a result an exceptionally productive and in fact essential conversation. During the talk Wellman offered his own generous translation of a couple passages from Yépez's Olson study, one which is specifically apropos to Yépez's thoughts on hybridity:

Olson mixes himself with the other. He bases his knowledge of the other in his own self knowledge. From Dahlberg, Pound and Cagli, he went on, shortly after, to Frances Boldereff and Robert Creeley. If the work of Olson refers centrally to expansion in the direction of the other, toward the fusion and appropriation of it, this incorporation also works at the limits of his own personal existence. Olson devours the other, he consumes it to support his own life and, at the same time, he is devoured by his catch. The whale who devours Job. Olson is fundamentally a cannibal. And he is also the cannibalized.

This is no doubt one among many readings of Olson and I don't think Yépez is calling for an out-of-hand dismissal of Olson. But the reading Yépez offers calls into question Olson's (occasional) preference for hybridity. Take, for example, Olson's invitation to Ed Dorn to take up the narrative of "Jim Beckwith" (James Beckwourth). Born into slavery in Virginia, Beckwourth was paternally of Irish and English extraction and maternally African-American. Beckwourth's father, Sir Jennings Beckwourth, moved west in 1809, taking his son with him. Later a fur trapper and mountain man, James Beckwourth lived among the Crow population for several years, taking up Crow practices and behaviors. Framed by Olson as "our kind" of "You-liss-seas," Beckwourth is for Olson the embodiment of hybridity and migration, a figure that effectively absorbs and synthesizes the antagonism of encounter as he moves across the landscape. Ed Dorn tacitly refused to take up Olson's invitation to investigate Beckwourth, privileging instead figures associated with the rapid and monopolizing circulation of culture and capital, figures like Daniel Drew, Howard Hughes and Walt Disney, figures Dorn believed signified a more accurate and no doubt less attractive "national soul" grounded in insatiable accumulation rather than hybridity. Here Dorn and Yépez are in agreement.